BMA writes to Health Secretary with calls for clarity on patient appointments and for urgent support for general practice

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 18 May 2021
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The BMA has written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care calling for the Government to provide urgent support to general practice and clarity to both practices and patients about the expectation to deliver more face-to-face appointments.

This follows a letter sent to practices last week by NHS England and Improvement (NHSEI), which instructed GPs to now offer face-to-face appointments despite most practices doing so throughout the pandemic.

In today’s letter1 to Matt Hancock – which expresses “the widespread anger, frustration and disappointment of the general workforce” – BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey says that GPs and their teams do not feel supported by either the Government or NHSEI, and are feeling increasingly demoralised by the suggestion that they are failing their patients by following national guidance around triage and remote consulting.
He says that last week’s letter “shows a worrying disconnect with the reality facing general practice”.

“Clinicians are delivering face-to-face appointments, but can only do so when it is safe for our patients. Face-to-face consultations are at the heart of good general practice, but we need real and meaningful support to reduce the current unsustainable workload burden, rather than creating unrealistic expectations without the resources to deliver them,” he adds.

The letter to Matt Hancock outlines a number of changes which the Government must make if practices are to increase the number of face-to-face appointments, including:

  • A clear statement from the CMO about when it is safe and appropriate to remove social distancing measures and when to use PPE for face-to-face consultations in GP premises.
  • A major public campaign, that explicitly supports general practice, and honestly informs patients about the challenges impacting primary care.
  • An end to directive letters, and instead practices and other GP services must be allowed to deliver patient care in the most appropriate manner, meeting the reasonable needs of their patients and based on their knowledge of their local communities.
  • Commitment to fund premises development to improve ventilation and space in waiting areas.
  • Practices not to be the automatic default for patient queries which should be directed to other parts of the NHS.
  • An extension and increase to the various types of funding which have supported practices during the pandemic recovery.
  • Access to and support from mental wellbeing services for GP staff.

Outlining the current pressures on practices, Dr Vautrey says:

“It is beyond doubt that general practice is under unparalleled pressure, delivering a far greater number of consultations than at the same time two years ago. Demand for services has increased significantly through use of additional means of patient communication, including e-consultations, alongside responding to vaccination, shielding and COVID-19 issues. GPs and their teams have worked tirelessly to meet this need, alongside delivering COVID-19 vaccinations quickly and effectively, which has brought benefit for the whole nation. However, they are now also tackling the huge NHS backlog, all while GP recruitment and retention is nowhere near the levels needed.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Read the full letter.